Thousand evacuate as officials warn Bali volcano could erupt in ‘hours’

Mount Agung shows unprecedented seismic activity as hundreds of volcanic earthquakes recorded in single day

Mount Agung is seen from Datah village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 26 September 2017. Photograph: EPA/Made Nagi

Mount Agung is seen from Datah village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 26 September 2017. Photograph: EPA/Made Nagi

 

Bali’s Mount Agung is experiencing unprecedented levels of seismic activity and could erupt in a “matter of hours”, Indonesia’s volcanology centre has confirmed.

Almost 60,000 people have been evacuated in the last few days as Agung, the highest point of the island, has experienced hundreds of internal volcanic earthquakes.

“Instrumentally we have never recorded such high energy or seismicity from Mount Agung,” Devy Kamil Syahbana, a seismologist from Indonesia’s centre for volcanology and geological hazard mitigation, told the Guardian.

Data showed that Mount Agung experienced 844 volcanic earthquakes on Monday, and between 300 and 400 earthquakes by midday on Tuesday, he said. “We need to pay attention because these kinds of earthquakes indicate the movement of magma and increase the probability of an eruption.”

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According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, 57,428 people, mostly Balinese,

have been evacuated from the areas around Agung

, seeking shelter in hundreds of village halls and sports centres, and in the homes of relatives in more than nine districts. President Joko Widodo is scheduled to visit evacuees at several camps on Tuesday.

Authorities have urged people to stay out the danger zone, a designated 9km-12km radius of the volcano.

The increasing frequency of deep and shallow volcanic earthquakes, as well as local tectonic tremors, is an indication that magma continues to move toward the surface of the volcano. The alert status of Agung was

raised to the highest level

on Friday evening following a significant spike in seismic activity.

Kasbani, the head of the volcanology centre, told local media that if tremors continue, an eruption - the first in more than half a century - could be just a “matter of hours” away.

The last time Mount Agung erupted was in 1963, when more than 1,000 people were killed. That event was also preceded by an increased frequency in earthquakes.

One of the difficulties in predicting the likelihood and timing of an eruption on Agung is that monitoring of the volcano began only after the 1963 eruption.

Other volcanoes in Indonesia that have erupted more recently offer a greater wealth of data for seismologists to compare and assess.

“But for Agung we have no instrumental documentation,” said Syahbana. “The only records that we have is of the phenomena that were observed and reported by people around the volcano prior to the 1963 eruption.”

Bali’s Ngurah Rai international airport, which is about 76km from the volcano, remains open, with flights running as normal on Tuesday.

In the event of an eruption and ash clouds that could disrupt air travel, authorities have made preparations for flights to be diverted to seven regional airports, including on Java and Lombok islands.

The UK, Australia and the US are among several countries that have issued travel advisories in recent days, warning that volcanic activity on Agung could interfere with travel plans.

Mount Agung is one of many active volcanoes in the ring of fire, a string of volcanoes and seismic activity that runs through the Indonesian archipelago and the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

- Guardian